Blue Notes: Jazz acts at the Hong Kong Arts Festival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 3:04pm

The full line-up has been announced for the 42nd Hong Kong Arts Festival, which runs from February 18 to March 22 next year, and includes four very different jazz artists.

None can really be called mainstream, but I suppose guitarist John McLaughlin comes closest. The young rebels who made their names playing rock-influenced fusion in the early 1970s are now jazz's elder statesmen. By the time he appears on March 14 with his latest band, The 4th Dimension, McLaughlin will be 72.

He has some history with the festival, having appeared in 1996 with Free Spirits, in 1997 with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia, and most recently in 2008 with the Five Peace Band he co-led with Chick Corea.

He formed The 4th Dimension in 2007 with drummer and keyboardist Gary Husband, drummer Mark Mondesir, and bassist Hadrien Feraud. Mondesir has since been replaced by Ranjit Barot and Feraud by Etienne M'Bappe.

McLaughlin made his reputation playing fast and furious electric fusion guitar with Miles Davis and with his own Mahavishnu Orchestra, before turning his attention to the acoustic guitar with the Indian-influenced band Shakti, and later an all-guitar trio with de Lucia and Larry Coryell, and subsequently Di Meola.

He has not abandoned the electric guitar, however, and the music he now makes with The 4th Dimension will make perfect sense to fans of his early-1970s playing.

Meanwhile, on reviewing Madeleine Peyroux's Standing on the Rooftop in 2011, I wrote it would be nice to have the opportunity to hear that repertoire live, so I'm grateful to the Arts Festival organisers for making that possible.

Often compared to Billie Holiday, Peyroux has a wider range of influences, many of them singer/ songwriters whose songs she has interpreted including Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, as well as jazz and blues greats such as Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson and Ray Charles.

She is often described as a "smooth jazz" artist, but with Standing on the Rooftop she started moving in an edgier direction, calling on the services of guitarist Marc Ribot, and also working with New Orleans musicians - bassist Meshell Ndegeocello and pianist-arranger Allen Toussaint who provided a deeper, funky bluesiness.

Peyroux's follow-up this year, The Blue Room, marks the resumption of her collaboration with producer Larry Klein - a master at treading the thin line between the subtly and too overtly commercial - and finds her developing her own interpretations of the country songs recorded in the early 1960s by Charles. Her performance should be interesting.

Then there is Gregory Porter, who is perhaps more of a soul singer than a jazz performer, but on the evidence offered on his current album, Liquid Spirit, he's a good one, and his 2010 debut, Water, was nominated for a Grammy.

Porter's jazz credentials essentially seem to be that his arrangements swing rather than rock. He has been compared to Marvin Gaye and Nat King Cole, reasonably enough, but there's no resemblance to, say, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau or Jon Hendricks. He will appear with his own regular quintet. Not for jazz purists perhaps, but it should be a good show.

Finaly, Roberto Fonseca has more solid jazz credentials, albeit within a highly specific area. Fonseca is an Afro-Cuban jazz pianist, known for taking over the piano stool in the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club from the great Ruben Gonzalez. He is a fine improvising musician whose album, Yo, released in 2011, has been acclaimed as a career highpoint.

This should be an enjoyable festival for lovers of jazz and jazz-related music. There aren't any slots in the ambitious programme for local, or locally based, jazz musicians though. Given the high calibre of an increasing number of local players, it would be nice to see some of them represented in 2015.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums by jazz performers participating in the 2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival.

  • Akokan (2009, Enja): Roberto Fonseca both asserts his unique style and pays tribute to his major formative influences, among them Abdullah Ibrahim and mentor Ruben Gonzalez. Afro-Cuban jazz at its most soulful and accomplished.


  • Bare Bones (2009, Rounder): an album wholly made up of original compositions by Madeleine Peyroux - although all but one with a collaborator - the most notable co-composers being producer Larry Klein, and Steely Dan's Walter Becker. This fine studio band includes Klein on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Dean Parks on guitar and Larry Goldings on organ.


  • To the One (2010, Abstract Logix): the first official studio release from John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension pays tribute to John Coltrane and A Love Supreme.